Theodore as sketch artist

A Socotran tree, by Theodore Bent (1897).

Theodore was a keen sketcher on all his travels, and most of his publications contain some examples of his work. There are numerous references in Mabel’s notebooks to Theodore sketching landscapes or attempting portraits – not always with success. Mabel captures one incident on Tilos in the Dodecanese in 1885:

All the women here are terrified at the idea of being photographed and my camera is rather a ‘white elephant’. They are also afraid of Theodore’s sketching them and all run away. There is one in particular, Kyriakí (Sunday) by name, one of those who carry our baggage, about 50 and very handsome, in the wildest darkest gypsy style, and when Theodore takes his book out she skips away like a goat. (Extract from Mabel’s Greek Chronicles, Tílos, Thursday, 5th March 1885)

Very little seems to have survived of any of his original work except, miraculously, for a portfolio of African watercolours now in the National Archives, Harare. Various researches have failed to account for the journey of these pictures there, but it seems likely that they returned in the first instance to Cape Town (after some of them had been reproduced for his book) and then were eventually transferred to Rhodesia – perhaps they were presented to Cecil Rhodes. As fascinating documents of early archaeological explorations in the country they merit great care.

A fascinating reference in ‘The Queen, the Lady’s Newspaper’ June 30, 1900, page 1059, refers to a loan of ‘several valuable sketches by the late Theodore Bent, lent by Mrs Theodore Bent’ at ‘The South African Loan Exhibition held, by kind permission of the Duke of Westminster, at Grosvenor House “in aid of the loyal colonists in Africa who are sufferers by the war”.’ Presumably these were sketches of the Bents’ expedition to Great Zimbabwe in 1891. These may include those now in Harare but there is no way of knowing.

Happily, some of his other sketches have been published to accompany Theodore’s many articles. Here is one from Adowa, Ethiopia.

 

Adua Church Theodore's sketch
‘Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity, Adowa’. From a sketch by J. Theodore Bent. The Illustrated London News, 6 May 1893, 556. Photo: private collection.
‘Kalenzia, Isle of Socotra, 1897’. Watercolour (detail), by Theodore Bent (private collection).

Other sightings include the solitary watercolour of Kalenzia, Isle of Socotra, 1897, that was sold at auction for 100 euros in 2013 in Germany.

There is also the tempting prospect that Bent’s sketches from their 1883/4 Cycladic trip might turn up!

 

Please do contact us at info@tambent.com if you have or are aware of any original sketches by Theodore! [The DNB of 1901 adds to Bent’s entry that “[his] notebooks and numerous drawings and sketches remain in the possession of Mrs. Bent.” A few of his notebooks are in the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies, London, but where are his “numerous drawings and sketches”? Do please let us know if you have any information on Theodore’s unpublished ones!]